One busy last full week of April Upfront/Newfront action included this trio of events early on. The recaps/reviews follow:
Venue: A year ago, the Foxwoods Theater near Times Square housed Syfy's presentation, with the audience remaining to see a performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, a unique night to all showing up (to say the least, really least). Spider-Man still plays here, and touches of the black cobweb backdrop framed the stage of Scripps' effort Popcorn was served pre-show, and some 30 personalities from Home & Garden TV, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, DIY and Great American Country were seated in the front rows. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Presentation: Until now, Scripps scheduled its event for breakfast or lunch crowds, the last few years at Cipriani's near Grand Central Station. Going late afternoon/early eve and doing so from a Broadway theater was a change-of-pace gamble. What Scripps didn't do was revamp the format that has worked well for its family of channels: boil down the key info on each net's current/future shows into 10-15 minute chunks, led by each net's top executive and loaded with videos. At times, the approach can be dry and confining, but refreshingly in Food Network's case, their portion came with unexpected humor--a song-and-dance video, Singing In The Rain-style, about the channel's virtues with asides from Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and other FN notables. The crowd ate it up; even Food president Brooke Johnson did a brief soft-shoe in reaction. Something else Scripps highlights in entertaining fashion: how advertisers get involved in each channel beyond 30-second spots, plus near the close, demonstrates a unique multi-channel strategy (Target for HGTV and Food this year). Wish more presentations followed this lead. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
News: Plenty with six channels to show off. On the promising side: Love It Or Lose It, Scoring The Deal and Million Dollar Room (HGTV); Trip Flip, Miami International Airport and Mile High (Travel); Great American Heroes and American Grown (GAC); Invention Hunters (a rare FN program about food technology and equipment), and Cooking's The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia. One quibble: no press release on the new shows immediately available post-event. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Host: Spread among various Scripps execs, all sound and solid. Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Comprehensive with great pace and production values, going Broadway without pouring on a heap of glitz.
Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG)
Venue: DBG chose the Off-Broadway Helen Mills Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district to play its first Newfront affair. The theater is downstairs, an open space with bar occupies the street level. A capacity crowd came to hear DEG make its case, so big a check-in line formed outside West 26th Street, and inside, it was tough to move around. Two screens at one end of the space presented clips of DBG's current work (available on various Web sites), and the finger food was delicious. Grade: 3 Jacks
Presentation: In the most novel approach by anyone so far, DBG relayed its message through a 30-minute musical revue, with live musical combo to the side of the stage and videos connecting one sequence to the next. Each sketch satirized some aspect of media, with a punch line related to DBG's content. Example: characters in The Hunger Games spared their lives because they watched Expecting, a series about women on the road to parenthood. Favorite bit: checking out the "real housewives" of Akron, Ohio. The songs and satire were on target. Unfortunately, the tune DBG put out was flat. You didn't get didley on what new series DBG would present, and when they would premiere. (Just a line before the closing song on Bartenders, and the line was the show's name, nothing more.) A big rule of upfront 101--show what's on the way and when, so advertisers can make up their minds whether or not to spend their money. Split grades: 4 Jacks for the revue and performers; 0 Jacks for the absence of new show info.
News: See above. Grade: 0 Jacks
Overall Grade: 2 Jacks DBG had the approach down pat, but all for naught when you don't have the important programming info to seal some deals.
Venue: Microsoft turned the largest conference room of its Rockefeller Center area offices into an auditorium for its fifth annual "digital showcase." The stage looked like the set of Meet The Press or The Sports Reporters, with chairs placed in the center and small screens overhead, plus large screens on either side running logos of participating advertisers as attendees walked in. When this room was filled, people were invited to see a simulcast in rooms nearby. Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: Three-and-a-half hours with no break is way too long for an audience to sit through, unless your event keeps the interest level high. Microsoft's didn't come close. For starters, sections devoted to Fox Sports and NBC News' digital/online work meandered and went nowhere. You concluded they (and the talent involved) should be part of separate events from Fox and NBC Universal. Both went the panel route and ended up bringing whatever momentum Microsoft was causing to a halt. What should have been the two-and-only main subjects--MSN and Xbox Live--were
saved for the second half of this marathon. When Xbox general manager Ross Honey had his moment in the spotlight, it was afternoon and more than a few empty seats were in sight. Technical glitches were evident throughout, from a badly-placed teleprompter below the stage off to one side, where speakers constantly looked down to view it, to a clicker not clicking for several speakers when they wanted to change slides (became a running joke by the end). The saving graces: a provocative "fireside chat" on where TV and digital content's going between former ABC/Yahoo programmer Lloyd Braun and Medialink CEO Michael Kassan, and Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Dawes, doing athlete profiles for Fox Sports' online Summer Olympics coverage from London. Grade: 2 Jacks
News: MSN had a pair of new shows to highlight--DV Guide (entertainment world wrap) and Today In The Park (mom-oriented series), without mentioning when either will debut. The bigger news, relayed by MA senior director Jahn Wolland, was the intro of a new ad strategy where BestBuy would sponsor a display on various online shows with BestBuy ads, inviting them to click the display for more info. In time, utilizing Skype, the viewer would be invited to click the display for a video chat with a BestBuy representative, while continuing to watch the program. "Doing one-on-one video chat with a local rep is incredibly exciting," Wolland said. (Could be an equally exciting application for video chat on the TV set.) During the Xbox Live presentation, Honey showcased several projects in development, including Kids' Kitchen, where kids create meals at home. Grade: 2.5 Jacks
Host: Felicia Day, producer/star of MSN's long-running Web comedy The Guild, did her best to keep things light and entertaining. Having to be ringmaster for a three-hours-plus adventure with tech bugs throughout didn't help. Grade: 3 Jacks
Overall Grade: 2 Jacks For next year, Microsoft A) Limit the showcase to your most important product and what the audience came to hear about most, MSN and Xbox Live. AA) Be heavy on what's coming and when. B) Don't go beyond 90 minutes. C) No more panels, and if you want something to break the format up, go the fireside chat approach (no longer than 15 minutes). D) Cut the glitches off with a reliable clicker and the teleprompter on a stand or overhead where it's easy to see. E) Bring back Dawes and Day to co-host. Do all that, and your Jacks count rises along with your profile among advertisers.
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
Next up: AOL, Syfy and Vevo
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is producer/host of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the weekly Internet-distributed radio program covering the TV scene. Simon cal be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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